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Convertible Tablets – Can They Sell?

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Asus EeePad Transformer

The earliest tablet PCs didn’t look much like what we use today. Some were pure slates, but most were hybrids of some sort, combining a keyboard and swivel screen for touch interface. Some of these devices were fantastic and allowed for full on-the-go productivity while others came up a little short.

With many of us naming Fujitsu as the benchmark for a great slate we also have Motion and TabletKiosk included with honourable mentions. Ironically however, more often I hear cries for HP’s TC11XX series, which for those of you not versed, is a hybrid clamshell tablet with detachable slate built-in. Today we see this resurgence through the ASUS eeeSlate Tablet device. The reality however is that through 5” to 12” there has been any number of Tablet scenarios launched – most however ran Windows as their Operating System of choice. What if there was a TCXX styled Tablet based on today’s Android or even iPad platforms; imagine detachable screens, pen features and full OS. Things could really start to heat up.

With the recent explosion in the tablet market focused largely on 10” tablets that weigh less than a pound and are thinner than a paperback book, convertibles have been largely forgotten. Dell launched the Inspiron Duo last fall to positive reviews but few sales and some people wondered if the iPad style tablet was the wave of the future.

For now, it appears the iPad will outsell pretty anything that hits the market for at least a couple years, but does that mean the convertible model is dead? I don’t think so. Just take a look at some of the fantastic things on the horizon from manufacturers like Samsung and Asus.

The Samsung Sliding PC 7 is a prime example – showcasing a tablet modified touch screen interface when closed and providing the complete Windows 7 desktop experience when in laptop mode. The convertible will be available soon for a base price of between $650 and $700 (pricing hasn’t been finalized yet) and will feature solid performance for a convertible.

Asus launched a convertible tablet a year ago in the Eee T101MT, but it didn’t catch on quite as strongly as was hoped. This year, Asus announced the EeePad Transformer and the Eee Slider – both convertible tablets with keyboards built in. The Eee Slate is their biggest push right now with Microsoft Windows 7. Being pushed heavily by Microsoft, the slate features a Core i5 processor, 4GB of DDR3 memory and a 12.1” capacitive touchscreen. Sales are brisk, but the price is high – it’s not meant for the mainstream, but will it be successful enough to drive further innovation in this field?

The Need for Convertibles

Until tablet PCs find a way to meld all of the technical features of a laptop PC including expanded battery life, a complete operating system, quick data entry, and access to familiar software, I see a market for convertible tablets. They offer multiple input methods, an easy way to switch between Windows 7 and a second operating system (or a more tablet friendly version of Windows) and in the right circumstances they can provide more power – as is the case with Eee Slate.

What do you think? Does a tablet PC need to have a keyboard and the power of a laptop or do convertibles act as a stopgap until the technology can advance to match what we need from our devices? For some people, these devices represent the perfect hybrid – for others an expensive middle ground. Where do you think they are headed?

 

Hugo Ortega is a tablet PC geek, a veteran of over 10yrs Tablet experience. Utilised globally as a public speaker by organisations such as Microsoft, CeBIT, Hannover Fairs, and many more Ortega is also an author, father of three and passionate facilitator. Always willing to assist he is a passionate advocate willing to assist.

19 Comments

  1. Shiloh Swanson

    04/05/2011 at 6:09 pm

    A convertible tablet is what I would prefer. Right now I have a tx2000 which has been less than perfect and is a few generations old. I’m looking forward to see what windows 8 will bring and what the companies will do with their hardware. Since windows comes with the tablet functionality built in I could imagine some companies releasing more models with at least a touchscreen which is a start but I would need both touch and pen.

    • Hugo Ortega @MrMobilePC

      04/06/2011 at 4:10 am

      Totally agree Shiloh, I still think it’s the best platform. I use the Fujitsu T900 as my primary, and Viliv S10 (convertible unit) as my on-the-go tablet, and TEGA v2 as my travel tablet (which I use most often lately). Convertibles need to get thinner and lighter and more powerful and we’ll be rock’n!

  2. Alain Chappaz

    04/05/2011 at 6:20 pm

    I don’t know where convertibles are headed – but I have a pretty darn good idea what I will buy next. While a convertible form factor offers the best of both worlds, I will not be satisfied with a capacitive touch display – I’ve been using “real” Tablet PCs far too long. A dual-mode digitizer is okay, i.e. comes with an *active* pen as well as touch. Everyone spends a great deal of energy dumping on Windows for not being touch-optimized; however most users have not had the opportunity to use Windows with an active pen. It’s a different story indeed. OneNote and Windows Journal are an absolute joy to use when you have the right tools for the job. For my short-term needs, the Fujitsu T580 looks might good right now. (not a commercial, thanks, but I have been using tablets for several years now)

    • Hugo Ortega @MrMobilePC

      04/06/2011 at 4:12 am

      Thanks Alain for the great comment. I I have the same feeling as you. While capacitive brought us great touch (even on Windows) the true Tablet experience is from Wacom based digitizers (until nTrig proves me wrong).

  3. Anonymous

    04/05/2011 at 8:05 pm

    I think convertibles have a harder row to hoe in the modern world.
    They’re becoming more of a niche device.

    There are two prime factors, both of which are technology shifts/advancements, which make them less attractive to as broad an audience as they used to be.

    The first is the way you use a slate. Modern systems pack more power into smaller/lighter bodies.
    So you are truly arriving at a place where you can hold a slate and use it like a pad of stiff paper.
    Older slates had the form factor but were actually still quite heavy and large to hold and use in the way would a pad of paper.

    Touch capability is the other big change. A lot of people do a lot of text entry and a physical keyboard is still a must. But a lot of people do much less and are completely fine with what can be offered in modern on-screen touch keyboards. The technology leaps have made them much better than they ever used to be.

    So.. for a lot of users you get more for giving up a physical keyboard (a slate device of an actual size to be used broadly as a slate while still having a lot of power/capability/battery life) AND you give up less by losing the keyboard – because the onscreen keyboards are much, much better than they used to be.

    So, altogether, convertibles are a tougher sell than they used to be. What they offer has more cost than it used to and provides less bonus than it used to.

    • Hugo Ortega @MrMobilePC

      04/06/2011 at 4:14 am

      Thanks for the great comment alsosavagemike! I think the slate is best but the on-screen keyboard becomes very important. For this I like SWYPE and maybe I can see reaon to get rid of the convertible. I still, however, find that for mass typing the keyboard still is best.

  4. ethibault

    04/05/2011 at 9:48 pm

    I think one day hopefully soon If we don’t pass by we will be able to use casually another support than paper.
    We need inking a good inking plateform.
    For wome weeks I have been owning an asus ep 121 slate and I realise many things :

    - natural inking is not as easy as than it seems there is a learning curve.

    For example the asus ep 121 is sold with a good stylus but lacking button to give you the right click, you can get it for 10 $, but you have to get to know it exists etc.

    - The main problem I see is :
    Microsoft bugs as usual.
    For instance you use the stylus then your finger and you don’t know why the stylus does not work anymore on the soft keyboard, why ? same always Microsoft bug like a pain the the neck

    Yes it only happens once avery other day but it really is boring

    another example, Microsoft is as stupid as KGB burocracy between cold war, for example french diplomats where assigned to french speaking eavesdropper.

    The French diplomats only has to speak english or german to escape the soviet spying…

    Well so is MS win 7, on a french Win7 version, the word “software” is not known, you may have well written it a french Win 7 will not recognize the word.

    • Hugo Ortega @MrMobilePC

      04/06/2011 at 4:17 am

      Hi Ethibault,

      I love your comment. So often this site, and many, think the readers are all English SPeakers natively, or they all live in America. This is not the case and it highlights real gaps when someone like you comments. GREAT! Looks like there is still a lot of work for Microsoft for languages other than English!

  5. Jesse B Andersen

    04/05/2011 at 11:57 pm

    So let’s see… companies sell tons of keyboards for iPads which makes them into convertible tablets. The Asus EP121 comes with an included bluetooth keyboard…. my conclusion is that keyboards are a must for those that need them for that task. Did you type this message with your touch screen? I didn’t and I’m using a tablet.

    There’s different uses for different systems. Convertible tablets like the Lenovo X220 are close to the “all-in-one” system. I can do gaming, web, music, movies, reading, tons of typing and pretty much anything I want. It might not be as touch friendly as the iPad, but that’s because developers don’t see money in developing touch friendly apps for Windows. The iPad is the hot new thing, like yo-yos in middle school, and Britney Spears in her glory day. It does fill a content consumption need.

    What do they use to develop iPad apps? not iOS and iPad, but a full operating system. Yes programmers need to type code (keyboard), graphic artists need to draw art (stylus input or Wacom tools, and Photoshop), musicians need to make music (USB midi keyboard to a good DAW system), and video editors need to edit 1080p content (Vegas, Premiere, Final Cut, etc). Content creators need a decent file/folder system, multiple USB connections, multi-tasking, and so on. Convertible tablets can do both content consumption and content creation.

    One big factor is the price of the device. It’s much easier to spend $500 on a slate tablet, than to spend over $1,000 on a convertible tablet. The slates are going to sell more because it fills the consumer side. Convertible tablets with full OSs are more suited for content creators and there’s less developers than consumers.

    • Hugo Ortega @MrMobilePC

      04/06/2011 at 4:20 am

      Hi Jesse,

      GREAT comment! Ironically iPad may do what Britney did, i.e. make a few mistakes and be faced with smaller crowds and less market share. I honestly think this might be the case. With your comment I think it highlights that price is important, while need is actuall more important. Everyone uses the devices differently and that’s why there will never be “the world’s best Tablet” but rather consumer will have the luxury of chosing tablets based on their needs – and the choice will become better each year!

  6. Dave_in_MI

    04/06/2011 at 11:48 am

    Hugo, if you haven’t already, you should go to Jesse’s blog and watch his X220T videos. Very informative.

    I’ve been going back & forth between 3 bad options. Build a power desktop (cheap, powerful, not portable), buy a slate (cheap, portable, but not powerful), or buy a high end convertible (powerful, portable, not cheap). I’m not a fan of second-hand laptops (no warranty and I’m not well-schooled in fixing them). The Asus Ep121 was intriguing… if only they’d waited and put the 2nd-gen Core i5 in it.

    The Thinkpad X220 tablet/convertible looks promising. Powerful (2.5ghz 2nd-gen Core i5), portable (-4lbs with a 9hr battery), and less-expensive (-$1500 w/ options). I can write a novel on the keyboard and then flip the screen down, grab the Wacom pen, and work on the cover graphics. Create a technical drawing in CAD for some crazy invention I might think up and then flip up the screen to type up the description for the patent application. Convertibles bring versatility to the discussion. The OEMs just need to start marketing them to the people who need versatility (engineers, scientists, people in the arts, etc). The iPad is so successful because it’s targeted at soccer-moms and college students, not your traditional “vertical markets”.

    Media tablets are a nice, second device for reading books, checking the news, firing off emails, or (if they add a pen) jotting down notes. Slate tabletPCs are a little more useful. It’ll be a while before either replace desktops or even laptops/convertibles, though.

    • Hugo Ortega @MrMobilePC

      04/08/2011 at 4:57 am

      Hi Dave,

      I’ll look into Jesse’s videos – regrettably time doesn’t allow me to do much of this though.

      Ironically from the three options you listed I think many people are in the same boat. I went for your last option, i.e. and bought a Fujitsu T900 (dual mode convertible i7). I think the media tablet hype will be short lived and consumers will be overwhelmed with low cost options and will be begging to “spend more and get more”. I just don’t see the merit in buying something for the sake of ownership. Like you I prefer to buy for the sake of productivity.

      Great comment!

  7. Shaunaaltman

    04/06/2011 at 1:58 pm

    I have a Google alert set up to daily tell me whatis new in the world of touchscreen laptops. I live my android phone and I live my laptop. I teach second grade, and I like to type to do research. I also like using keyed shortcuts (like ctrl v, or f5).I am writing this on my phone, which is great to read on, but not as cool to use as a writing tool. I am just waiting for a product that fits my needs. Thanks for mentioning the sliders. I will look a them next.

    • Hugo Ortega @MrMobilePC

      04/08/2011 at 4:59 am

      Thanks Shaun for the comment – sliders were popular a few years back (think OQO, Ruvo and Sony) but have tapered off. I do like them but think the market is limited as they were normally fairly chunky. It will be interesting to see where it heads – keep me posted on your alerts! :-)

  8. dstrauss

    04/06/2011 at 3:02 pm

    Someday (here’s my guess – first in line – June 2014) we’ll have a slate no thicker than the iPad that can run OneNote 2013 with cloud services for unlimited archiving of your life (and business) in notes; it will do voice recognition AND transcription for ease of heavy text entry; fully Office compatible software (or office itself), with bluetooth keyboard support…

    My sarcasm aside, I have now tried iPad; Xoom; Nook Color (fun hacking); HP Slate 500; and tried an Asus EP121 at a Fry’s – and I always come back to my HP 2730p (soon to be supplanted by an HP 2740p). Despite the extra 2-2.5 lbs of heft, you cannot get an all-in-one device short of a good convertible tablet running Win7. I don’t want another device that require syncing (and constant care) to keep my desktop, phone, and “pad” in lock step. When in the office, I need to be able to seamlessly browse the network shares and edit/print anything from one place. I quickly tired of half-measures and work-arounds to get documents from A to B to printer; locate a missing memorandum on the server, or just plain take good notes in OneNote.

    There is NO good solution (aka – a OneNote equivalent) in the iOS or Android world. N-Trig may be better than a capacitive stylus, but its (in)accuracy still leaves me longing for a Palm Pilot with Graffiti! Wacom is the only real solution, and a keyboard is still a must for text entry and editing (heaven help me if I had to hand write this – wait, maybe brevity is a virtue).

    • Hugo Ortega @MrMobilePC

      04/08/2011 at 5:03 am

      Hi Dstrauss,

      Too funny! I love the tone and complexity of your comment. No doubt the frustration is not lost in your sarcasm, and the fact that the market doesn’t see what you and I see. Once day the stars will align but for the moment there is a big gap. At this stage I blame Microsoft for not steering the tablet ship better – and not seeing the iceberg ahead!

  9. Anonymous

    04/06/2011 at 7:45 pm

    Frankly, in my opinion when it comes to a convertible tablet I’ve always been in love with the HP TC11XX series. Having the keyboard become detachable and shed that extra weight that comes with it. The Asus and Samsung sliders don’t really follow that example as their keyboards are still there, adding that extra weight. Who I think has it right is Asus with their Eee pad Transformer, and Lenovo with the LePad. Asus allows their dock to give their tablet device far more battery life than anything else I can think of, while Lenovo has their tablet function between Windows 7 and Android depending on if its in the laptop dock, or mobile as a tablet. Frankly, both ideas are great and I think that the future of laptops and convertible tablets lies within these two products.

    • Hugo Ortega @MrMobilePC

      04/08/2011 at 5:04 am

      Hi Elthran,

      Maybe you’re right! I like the idea of the transformer devices, the only irony was that sometimes the keyboard gets left behind, and yet is needed, and therefore a convertible became more appealing overall. I’m a fan of the TC11XX series tablet too but I’m not sure it’s the best way.

  10. CStevens

    04/10/2011 at 7:03 pm

    I have used various 14-inch convertable TabletPcs as destop replacements for a number of years. They are heavy and powerful, but are what I need.

    From day one, I have wished that there were equivalent slate style TabletPCs availabe. The slates have traditionally valued portability over power and affordability.

    The laptop configuration is conveient, but not good ergonomically. I wuold much prefer a slate with external keybord of my choice. I can elevate the slate, use it in portrait mode, or use it a flat angle for a drawing surface. In auto cad the drawing slate and external keboard side by side is a grets configuration not remotely provided by a convertable. Add an external monitor and you are even more productive.

    A slate configuration shuld be easier to construct , elimiates the need for a keyboard and hinge (saves weight) and could be thinner. THe keyboard and hinge are additiona parts that can fail and are not needed.

    I think the bigger is: POWERFUL TABLET PCs – Can They Sell. Once you enter the pure slate realm, portability and compromise become the norm. The first thing to go is an active digitzer (A MUST, FOR ME!) NExt is processor speed and storage. The Asus EP1221 is a good example. This is a powereful computer with Wacom digitizer. Mising items: convenient way to connect to a cat5 network, conveient way to connect to a non HDMI monitor, port replicator, 2nd memory slot. Curious inclusion: Acer Branded MS blue tooth keyboard. This is not a keybard I want otr want to pay for. I loke forward to its successor.

    IF CONVERTABLES WERE TO BE DISCONTINUED, Convertable Powere User” Niche would be combined with “Slate Power User” niche. Perhaps thsis larger niche would get more attention from MS and the manufacturers.

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